Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
Murray State football welcomed conference-leading Eastern Illinois to Roy Stewart Stadium in a conference matchup that came down to one kick.
The Racers had the chance in double overtime to stay alive by converting a 38-yard field goal, but Eastern Illinois sophomore defensive tackle Terrell Greer had a different idea. Greer blocked Vicente’s try to keep the Panthers’ undefeated OVC streak alive and to propel them to a 27-24 win over the Racers.
Junior quarterback Shuler Bentley played arguably his best game in a Racer uniform and didn’t waste any time getting on the board by scrambling for a 23-yard touchdown in the first quarter to put the Racers up 7-0.
The Panthers retaliated in the second quarter, however, as sophomore running back Darshon McCullough punched it in to even the score at seven. Eastern Illinois managed to build on McCullough’s score when junior wide receiver Alexander Hollins caught a 22-yard pass from junior quarterback Bud Martin to push the Panther lead to 14-7.
In the third quarter, Eastern Illinois struck again when Isaiah Johnson recorded a 4-yard touchdown rush to increase the Racers’ deficit to 21-7.
But in the fourth quarter, Murray State’s offense began to spark. Senior wide receiver Jordon Gandy caught a 59-yard pass from Bentley and managed to juke and jive his way into the end zone to make it a 21-14 game.
Later in the quarter, freshman running back D.J. Penick got a score of his own, as Bentley hit him for a 15-yard completion for a touchdown.
The Racer defense quelled the Panthers’ offense throughout the quarter and managed to fight back to force an overtime in a game that had seemed out of reach after the end of the third quarter.
Overtime was a back-and-forth affair – a trend that’s been somewhat of a staple with Eastern Illinois, who has clinched all of their wins by a margin of three points or less. Vicente mustered a field goal in the Racers’ first overtime possession, but Panther freshman kicker Matt Saeverino matched it with one of his own to force another overtime.
Eastern Illinois got the ball first to open the second overtime, and Murray State’s defense managed to limit their offense to a field goal. The home team had the chance to either tie the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown, but Eastern Illinois’ defense prevailed and forced the Racers to attempt one last field goal to stay alive.
But Vicente’s attempt was to no avail, as Greer’s block took Murray State to 2-5 on the year and 1-2 in conference play.
Senior safety Isaiah Foster said losing to a conference opponent off a blocked field goal was a demoralizing way to cap off the night.
“It was very hard to take because we’re pushing and pushing and pushing, so for us to come up short like that is disappointing, but if you look at it from another perspective you can see that we are a really good team,” Foster said. “Our defense, when we execute, we go all out. We have not played a game where we had little effort; every time it’s 100 percent effort.”
Despite Saturday’s loss, Head Coach Mitch Stewart maintained his pride in his team’s resilience and fight.
“I think our effort level was incredible,” Stewart said. “I think there were a lot of people that probably counted us out in the fourth quarter when it was 21-7; they were probably packing their stuff and went home, but, boy, did they miss quite a game out there.”
The Racer defense was a consistent force throughout, forcing four turnovers off of three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
“Defensively, those suckers played their butts off,” Stewart said. “Especially in big-time situations and continuing to put teams in fourth-down situations on whether or not they want to kick it or go for it.”
The bulk of Eastern Illinois’ attack came on the ground. The team recorded 351 rushing yards, and were led by 236 from Johnson. The Racers failed to rival the performance of their foe, as their ground deficiencies continued with a mere 58 yards.
Bentley managed to pick up the slack in the running game, amassing a rushing touchdown and two passing touchdowns off of 332 throwing yards.
The target of the majority of those yards: Gandy. Gandy recorded 193 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Racers’ loss.
The Racers will have some time to recuperate before hitting the field again in a homecoming matchup that kicks off at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14 against Eastern Kentucky.